Saturday, December 6, 2003

City told to restore abortion coverage

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DOWNTOWN - Cincinnati City Council's decision to exclude voluntary abortion coverage as part of city employee heath benefits violates union contracts and cannot be enforced, an arbitrator has ruled.

City Council passed the abortion coverage ban in 2001 by a 6-2 vote. Former Councilman Chris Monzel introduced the measure, saying taxpayer money should not be used to fund a procedure many Cincinnatians find morally objectionable.

But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8, which represents about 2,500 unionized city employees, filed a grievance.

The union said the city couldn't make changes to its health care plans without negotiating a new contract first. The city argued that because the labor contracts didn't spell out what medical procedures were covered, it could change them at any time.

Arbitrator James M. Mancini rejected the city's argument in a 13-page opinion. He ordered the city to restore the benefit and reimburse any employee who's had an abortion since the change.

City Solicitor J. Rita McNeil said the ruling was "reasonably based on contract interpretation," and said she would not appeal unless council instructed her to.

Republican Sam Malone, who has taken over Monzel's mantle as the lead anti-abortion voice on City Council, said the council should disregard the solicitor's advice.

"She's wrong on that. They're going to have a fight on their hands, that's for sure," he said. "It's going to be 12 rounds of action-packed boxing."

E-mail gkorte@enquirer .com.

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